Today I Listened To …

cover of Satie Early Piano WorksAll was quiet in the house last night, so I had to keep the volume down and you cannot do much better in those circumstances than the Early Piano Works by Erik Satie. I love this interpretation by Dutch pianist/conductor Reinbert de Leeuw as he takes the tempo right down compared to others like Ciccolini. Very much recommended if you need to wind down and get rid of the stress of modern living. Music as therapy, almost.

I remember the very first time I heard Gnossiennes very clearly. My friend Nico, who was later to go and study piano at the Alkmaar Conservatory, was playing it at his house. I sat on the couch, just listening. When he finished playing I said “that’s beautiful, it made me think of being lost in a maze, just calmly wandering about, not panicking, but enjoying what you see.” He must have been playing it exactly as Satie intended, because “Gnossiennes” refers to the Knossos on Crete.

It is in the Gnossiennes that one first encounters one of the quirks of Satie, which has caused much bemusement: the extraordinary and sometimes bizarre playing instructions. Satie wanted to use new, absurd musical terms to replace the old, standard ones that had lost their meaning because they had been around so long. Gnossienne No. 2 has instructions such as: “With amazement”, “don’t leave”, “with great kindness”, “more intimately”, “lightly, with intimacy” and “don’t be proud”.


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